“I’ve got three friends, so I’m gonna need three,” said Danielle Wells, looking over some gift items that can’t be described here or it will spoil her Christmas surprise.
The 5-year-old Wells was shopping on Saturday morning with her sister, Derilynn, 7, at the first-ever Santa’s Workshop hosted by the VFW Post 9076, a shopping event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for kids 12 and under.
Assisted by Morgan Leiker, an elementary education major at Fort Hays State University, the Danielle and Derilynn were checking off names from their list as they browsed a roomful of tables filled with donated items from Kat’s Hallmark Shop, 4320 Vine St.
Proceeds from the event go to the VFW to help fund their events, all geared toward helping Hays and the surrounding area, explained Kathy Schupman, owner of the Hallmark store.
Irene Huntington, the girls’ mother, sat with other parents and grandparents in a waiting area, while their kids picked out gifts.
Santa was also at the VFW, taking requests and posing for pictures with a line of waiting children winding out the door into the parking lot of the post at 2106 Vine St.
“That’s hard for me to explain,” said Derilynn, when asked what she wants for Christmas. “I want a Funny Pen. And I want something to play with by myself.”
With the Disney movie Frozen on her mind, Dannielle piped up, “I want an Elsa outfit, with a wig.”
Irene explained the family had moved recently from Salina for their dad, Mason, to manage the new Qdoba Mexican Eats. The girls wonder if Santa will find them Christmas morning.
“We don’t know,” said Derilynn. “It’s our first time here.”
Alan Gottschalk, VFW member and past post commander, sat at one shopping table. A Vietnam veteran, he served from 1966 to 1968 in the DMZ north of Da Nang.
“Can you break a five?” a boy asked Gottschalk. “I need $4 back because I’m buying this for my aunt.”
Gottschalk counted out the change from a handful of bills.
“The post does a lot of community service,” he explained. “We donate to the Kansas Soldiers’ Home. We buy them socks and T-shirts. We sponsor a lot of community events. And we assist with military funerals, as many as five to six a month.”
Out front in the line, Karli Bradley, 6, Hays, waited with her dad, Steve, “to get presents for mommy and daddy,” she said.
Jasmine Budke, 11, and her sister Ava Budke, 3, were visiting from Lyons and came with their grandparents Diana and Dennis Budke, Hays. Jasmine hoped to buy “a necklace or something homemade,” for her mother.
All of the items are $5 or less, said Schupman, calculating their must be hundreds available for the kids to choose from. Gift wrapping, with help from a group of Thomas More Prep-Marion students, was available free.
“This is the first time we’re trying this,” said Schupman. “We hope we’re starting something new in the community. The kids get to take something home for mom and dad and the parents won’t know what it is.”
Quartermaster for the VFW, Schupman said “any money that comes into the VFW ends up back in the community,” including for organizations such as First Call for Help, the Hays Community Center, and the VFW Community Christmas Dinner.
Karol Goodin, a member of the VFW Auxiliary, helped at the wrapping table, with gifts purchased by Evelyn Schmidt, 8, and her sisters Sophia, 7, and Catherine, 11. They came with their grandparents, Debbie and Don Klaus, Hays, who sat in the waiting area.
Catherine spent $5 and bought three items. Her sisters also found gifts.
“I have four bags. I bought for four people,” Evelyn said, “for my nana, my papa, my mom and my dad.”